One of the reasons that knowing that paradigm is so vital is that Latin rarely uses personal pronouns as subjects in a sentence. That is, a Latin sentence would just say "praise" as the verb. In English we would preface that with a pronoun - "I praise" etc. - to determine the person acting. But they don't do that in Latin. You need to be able to recognize the subject just by looking at the verb. Words like I, you, he, she, we... all those are used very rarely.*
Okay. Now then. I hope we've all mastered the definition of a noun as "person, place, or thing" and an adjective as "something that describes a noun." If not, go directly to Madlibs, do not pass go, do not collect $200.
But I'm going to make you stretch your minds a bit further. We're going to talk now about what it is exactly that nouns DO.
Nouns do different things in a sentence. The different functions of nouns are called cases. All these cases have names. And we're going a bit beyond subject-object now.
There are 6 cases of nouns.
Nominative - The subject. This is the noun that does something.
Genetive - When one noun is used to modify another, we use the genetive case. The most common idea conveyed by this case is that of possession. Generally, while there are other ways of modifying nouns than possession, you can use the prefix "of" in English.
Dative - These nouns are indirectly affected by the action of the verb. Nouns that would begin with "to" or "for" are the most common English equivalents.
Accusative - The direct object. This is the thing that is done to by the action of the verb. It can be affected by certain prepositions.
Ablative - This is the case that often limits or modifys the verb by such ideas as means ("by what"), agent ("by whom"), manner ("how"), accompaniment ("with whom"), place ("where"), or in other ways that we will discover as we go along. In English it usually has a preposition, though in Latin that is not always the case.
Vocative - This is the case of direct address. If I wanted to say "Jani, get me the book" that is direct address.
Now, learning these cases is vital. Absolutely critical. Because in English we have very strict word order. We know what is what in a sentence by where it is in relation to the verb, or by the prepositions attached to it. In Latin, this is not the case. Some of the cases are easier to understand than others, and the ablative in particular you will grow to hate so much that you love it.
Latin sentences follow a general rule of Subject-Object-Verb, but this is highly flexible. (The verb was often kept till the end to create a feeling of suspense.) The way they figured out what did what was in the noun itself. (You should also note that adjectives do the same things as nouns.) I welcome you all to the migraine that is DECLENSIONS.
Anyone who's taken a Romance language before should be familiar with the concept of gendered nouns and adjectives. Latin nouns have gender, and the adjectives always match that gender. The first declension, which we are doing today, is almost completely feminine.** We will use the example of porta magna ("large gate") to show the declension.
Nom -a (porta magna, "the (a)*** large gate")
Gen -ae (portae magnae, "of the large gate")
Dat -ae (portae magnae, "to/for the large gate")
Acc -am (portam magnam "the large gate")
Abl -a (porta magna, "by/with/from/etc. the large gate")
Voc -a (porta magna, "O large gate")
Nom -ae (portae magnae, "the large gates")
Gen -arum (portarum magnarum, "of the large gates")
Dat -is (portis magnis, "to/for the large gates")
Acc -as (portas magnas, "the large gates")
Abl -is (portis magnis, "by/with/from/etc. the large gates")
Voc -ae (portae magnae, "O large gates")
That's the paradigm. And I know you've been given a lot here, and if you're anything like me, it really makes your head hurt. We're not used to thinking of nouns like this in English. But you'll get used to it, I promise, if you can just put a bit of effort into it now.
* I'm going to do this from now on. Any questions that don't get answered in comments and I feel is worth me typing out will get put at the top of the next lesson. Probably in a cut to save space.
** There are a few words that do not follow this pattern and are first declension but MASCULINE, and I'll point a couple more common ones out here for you: poeta "poet," nauta "sailor," agricola "farmer," auriga "charioteer," incola "inhabitant," pirata. There may be others, but that's all I can think of right now. If one pops up, I'll point it out to you.
*** Latin has no word corresponding to our definite article "the" and our indefinite article "a." Thus porta can be translated as "gate" or "the gate" or "a gate." You have to figure out which one sounds best in English.
I'll post a couple examples in another post, since this one is getting really really long.